Garrett Richards making it work without sticky stuff as Red Sox top Blue Jays, 7-4

In another time, on another team, Garrett Richards would’ve been demoted to the bullpen, at the very least.

But right now, on a high-powered Red Sox team that has now scored at least four runs in 60% of their games this season, Richards is good enough.

After going almost as far as declaring his career over after MLB introduced new rules banning foreign substances from the pitcher’s mound five weeks ago, Richards has figured something out.

He looked strong on Wednesday night, using more of his slider and cutter as opposed to the curveball that had worked so well for him before MLB’s ban, and it was enough to lead the Red Sox to a 7-4 win over the Toronto Blue Jays.

“I’m starting to figure out hand position and figuring out some things mechanically right now that are really moving in the right direction,” he said. “I’ve been throwing a lot of strikes lately. Walks have gone down. I wouldn’t say I’m pitching to contact more. I’m trying to be in the zone more.”

Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom hasn’t paid anyone a yearly salary as high as Richards’ $10 million in 2021, and Richards has largely disappointed. But he’s quietly won his last two starts. He’s gone at least five innings in four straight. And while he isn’t exactly blowing hitters away the way he was a month ago, when his high-90s fastball and wipeout breaking balls were spinning as well as they ever had, he’s done enough to keep his spot in the Sox’ starting rotation, one that is expanding to include six guys with the addition of Tanner Houck on Thursday.

“I’m trying to evolve,” he said. “I developed a changeup a few days ago, I guess you’d call it maybe with the All-Star break, a couple weeks ago, I guess. But this is the first game I’ve gone into it and I trusted it enough to throw it, I think I threw it 25% of the time. I think that’s going to be a real big pitch for me as something going into righties and away from lefties, because everything else I have is going into lefties and away to righties. It’s definitely a different look.”

Richards had allowed just one run into the sixth on Wednesday, entering the inning with a 5-1 lead. But he hung a fastball to George Springer and a slider to Teoscar Hernandez for a pair of back-to-back homers that cut the Sox’ lead to 5-4.

The Sox answered with back-to-back homers by J.D. Martinez and Hunter Renfroe in the eighth to make it easy for the bullpen to finish it out.

Richards struck out five, the most he’s struck out in a game since June 6, and allowed just four hits, fewest in a start of at least five innings since June 1.

“When his slider is competitive, it’s one of the best in baseball,” manager Alex Cora said.

His spin rate was down drastically again on Wednesday. His slider was down 207 rotations per minute compared to his season average, his fastball was down 300 RPM and his curveball was down 401 RPM, drastic drops. But Cora hasn’t been concerned.

“Garrett is making adjustments,” Cora said. “They keep paying off. As far as their stuff, we got the numbers and yeah, his spin rate is down, but if you compare where he’s at right now with other elite pitchers in the league and he’s right there with us. It’s not the 3,000 RPMs or whatever it was early in the season, but it’s still good enough to get people out at the big-league level.”

Garrett Whitlock, Adam Ottavino and Matt Barnes all looked strong out of relief as the Red Sox won both games vs. the Jays before heading home for a four-game series with the Yankees starting on Thursday.

Other takeaways:

1. Kiké Hernandez hasn’t cooled down. He yanked a pitch from Blue Jays lefty Robbie Ray down the left-field line for a line-drive home run in the third inning, his 14th of the year, and reached base three times in five plate appearances on Wednesday. He’s hit nine of his 14 homers since June 19. He has an on-base percentage over .400 and an OPS over 1.000 in the last month.
2. Barnes hasn’t been given a chance to close since nearly blowing the All-Star Game for the American League last Tuesday. Barnes needed almost 30 pitches to escape a jam in the eighth inning against the National League and hasn’t pitched since. But he made quick work of the Jays in this one, carving them up on 11 pitches for his first save since July 4.
3. Danny Santana is injured again. Santana was starting in left field as the Sox looked to take Alex Verdugo out of the lineup against lefties. Santana made a great play early on, leaping to his right to make a catch near the wall, but had to be removed late due to a tight groin in his left leg.

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